Most law school associate deans last only 3 to 6 years. When asked why and how she has been able to stay in this position for 18 years, Leah Jackson replies, "I love Baylor Law School and I believe in our mission. Baylor is rich in the tradition of faculty, staff and deans who love what we do and stay at Baylor on a long-term basis. Dean Toben has been dean for the same 18 years and he and I work side-by-side as a team. Along with an incredible faculty and staff we are committed to our first priority of teaching and training our talented and hard-working students who will be the next generation of Baylor lawyers. It is my privilege to be part of this very special place. I know how blessed I am to be here."
Dean Jackson comes from a Baylor family. She followed in the footsteps of her father and brother and attended Baylor University and Baylor Law School. After earning her BBA, summa cum laude, she never looked at another law school even though she was fairly certain at the time she entered Baylor Law School that, with her accounting background, she was not likely to want to be a trial lawyer. She recalls being surprised to find that she "enjoyed" the Practice Court experience, "as much as one can," she added.
After earning her J.D. cum laude in 1985, she entered private practice with the Waco law firm of Naman Howell Smith & Lee, P.C., where she practiced for almost five years in the firm's business section. Her primary interest and focus was tax planning. In practice her appreciation for Baylor Law School's approach to legal education only grew as she recognized that the skills taught in Practice Court translate proficiently into a transactional practice.
Jackson has been the primary tax professor at Baylor for her entire tenure. She teaches the second-year required Basic Tax and Accounting for Lawyers course, and she teaches Individual Taxation and Partnership Taxation. Until recently she also taught Corporate Taxation giving her a teaching load that is equivalent to that of a full-time professor at many other law schools. "Making tax interesting and appealing to law students from all backgrounds is tough. Balancing my teaching duties with my administrative and other responsibilities is also a real challenge much of the time, but I cannot imagine not being the one to try to explain the concepts of income, deductions and financial statements to our students."
She believes in an integrated approach to teaching the practical applications of tax planning. "Tax planning affects all of us in our daily lives. I want our students to be prepared to handle the simple tax issues that affect their clients, no matter what type of practice they have, and to recognize when they need a tax lawyer to help with the more complicated issues." By using common business and investment transactions as examples, she also incorporates discussions about difficult, and sometimes delicate, professional responsibility issues they will face in practice. "Practicing law with honor and integrity sometimes places the lawyer at odds with the ‘bottom-line' orientation of a profession that has become big business. Our students need to develop a strong moral compass to guide them through the moray of ethical issues they will face in practice." By talking about those issues in law school, she knows her students will be better prepared to make the right choices when facing such dilemmas in practice.
Dean Jackson recognizes that being a lawyer is a privilege that requires her to give back to society. Spending several hours each week as a founding member of the Greater Waco Community Education Alliance leadership team, she works with other community leaders to increase the community's active involvement in supporting the education of every student in our community. She also serves as a mentor to three ninth-grade girls through the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce LEAD program. She is the Immediate Past Chair for the Texas Women in Higher Education, Inc. and a member of Waco's Partners in Education Advisory Board. On a national level, she is an appointed member of the Network Executive Board of the American Council on Education's Office of Women in Higher Education. She is an elected member of the Texas Bar Foundation and a past president of the Waco McLennan County Bar Association and the Midway Education Foundation. She is an alumnae of the Leadership Texas and Leadership America programs. She was recognized as an Outstanding Alumnus for Leadership Waco and a Woman of Distinction by the Blue Bonnet Council of Girl Scouts. Joining other academic leaders from the U.S. and abroad, she was invited to participate in two Oxford Round Tables to discuss the status of women leaders in society. She writes and speaks on tax, business, non-profit and leadership topics and she is frequently asked to give motivational speeches to youth delivering a message that emphasizes the importance of education, commitment and perseverance in pursuing their dreams.
For years, she spent significant time assisting her two daughters' softball and volleyball teams. "We spent countless nights and weekends practicing and training, and we traveled to more places than I can remember, but I treasure every experience with them, even my broken fingers and other minor injuries along the way. My daughters (and I) learned many valuable life lessons through their athletic experiences."
Now that her daughters are in graduate school and law school, Dean Jackson turns her attention to other interests after work. She loves traveling, especially for hiking and back-packing trips. "Truly experiencing the outdoors and pushing yourself to accomplish challenging feats is exhilarating. Sitting on a cliff basking in a sunset or breath-taking landscapes, and looking over my shoulder to appreciate the awe and dangers of a mountain I just scaled. These are experiences that renew my soul and deepen my admiration for the majesty of God's spectacular creations all around us."
Closer to home she runs, cycles and swims preparing for triathlons, marathons, and trail runs. She remembers her first full marathon as one her most challenging experiences. "Miles 18 through 26.2 were brutal. The cramps in my quads and calves felt as if someone was poking me with a cattle prod! But I didn't stop." Her favorite place to train is Cameron Park. "The trails and hills are daunting but the park and river are beautiful. It's a great place to spend time."
Dean Jackson also enjoys oil painting, cooking, baking and decorating cakes – some of which can be very elaborate. "I have been known to stay up until the wee hours of the morning to put just the right finishing touches on a cake or a painting. Whatever I do, I think it is important to give it my all."